The Facebook files

There are astonishing and detailed  revelations in today’s Guardian about the scale of abuse on the Facebook platform.  They are based on a major leak from someone who was obviously once on the inside track – and maybe still is.

Seemingly in January of this year Facebook had to assess 54,000 reports of alleged revenge porn and “sextortion”.  14,000 accounts related to these complaints were disabled. Apparently, 33 cases involved children. If these numbers are not bad enough just think about how many abuse reports Facebook might have received in the same month which they categorised  under other headings?

Let’s not leap to any conclusions. Leaks are not always the most reliable way of learning the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Little things like context also matter but set against Facebook’s historic tradition of near total opacity about its inner workings the Guardian piece could quickly become the received wisdom.

Less than three weeks ago Facebook “revealed” they were going to recruit a further 3,000 moderators to add to the 4,500 we are told were already in place. There will now be the faintest suspicion that the company knew about the leak and were trying to get their retaliation in first because up to that moment Facebook had steadfastly refused ever to disclose how many people it employed as moderators.

Of course, we do not know when Facebook will reach 7,500 moderators – recruiting and training them will take time – and as one of their senior staff commented “there is not necessarily a linear equation between the number of moderators employed and the effectiveness of the moderation function.” Quite so.

In other words without knowing a great deal more, 7,500 may turn out to be a wholly politically determined number that bears no relationship whatsoever to what is needed.

As soon as the UK elections are over I would say social media platforms are in for a tough time.  And once that political ball starts rolling there is no knowing where it might end up.

My guess is there’s more to come from The Guardian. Watch this space.

About John Carr

John Carr is a member of the Executive Board of the UK Council on Child Internet Safety, the British Government's principal advisory body for online safety and security for children and young people. In the summer of 2013 he was appointed as an adviser to Bangkok-based ECPAT International. Amongst other things John is or has been a Senior Expert Adviser to the United Nations, ITU, the European Union, a member of the Executive Board of the European NGO Alliance for Child Safety Online, Secretary of the UK's Children's Charities' Coalition on Internet Safety. John has advised many of the world's largest internet companies on online child safety. In June, 2012, John was appointed a Visiting Senior Fellow at the London School of Economics and Political Science. More:
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